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Lessons of Ascension

May 10, 2018
By Pastor David French

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Lessons of Ascension
Acts 1:1-11

There’s a lot to be learned about the Ascension of our Lord from our reading in Acts as well as our Gospel reading this evening.  Luke, who wrote both, tells us Christ’s ascension took place near Bethany.  He also tells us that the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection.  He records what the eye witnesses saw at the Ascension, that Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Luke tells us a lot, but there are also things that Luke doesn’t tell us.

For example, many people just assume that once the cloud hid Jesus from sight that Jesus just kept going up and up until He reached heaven and so, is now far, far away.  They assume that Jesus is watching over us from wherever He is.  Some think that from that far-off “command center,” Jesus gets involved with the important things that happen in this world, but for the most part, He has bigger, more important things to watch over than you or me.

But when we read these inspired words of Luke carefully, we realize that Luke only tells what the disciples saw.  Jesus rose from the surface of the earth far enough for a cloud to literally “receive” Him.  After that, Luke says nothing.  Maybe the cloud hid a door in the sky that goes from time into eternity.  I mean, if all we knew about the Ascension was from Luke’s account, then the imagination is the limit once He’s “received by the cloud from their sight.”  But if we want to know what happened, then we need look elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In our Epistle reading Paul tells of the great works of God “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  With words we learn a few more things about the Ascension of our Lord.

First of all, Paul wants us to understand that the Ascension is not just Christ moving in time and space, but it’s also a recognition of authority.  When we hear that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, what does that mean? If we think about it from an earthly perspective, for example, the Queen of England sits on the throne in London, but that doesn’t mean she sits there 24/7.  It means that she reigns as Queen over all the United Kingdom and has the right to sit on that throne by virtue of her office.  Likewise, Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father doesn’t mean He just sits there, it means that He reigns with His Father over all things.  It means that Jesus, whose flesh never saw decay, has taken humanity into the Holy Trinity.

Another thing that Paul teaches us is that Jesus is the One who fills all things.  That is, Jesus is everywhere, and not just as God, He is everywhere as God and man.  That’s a teaching that’s technically known as the “genus idiomaticum” or what the catechism calls the communication of attributes from Christ divine to His human nature.  That is because Christ is one person who is both God and man.  Everything He is and does, He is and does as both God and man.

So, when we think about Christ’s Ascension, we shouldn’t think, up, up, and away, but more up, up, and out!  Jesus’s Ascension does not mean He is gone.  It means He’s always with us as both God and man. The truth is, Jesus is closer to each of us now than He would be if we could see Him with our physical eyes.

We’ve already seen this at work during the forty days Jesus appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead.  He left the tomb without moving the stone.  He spoke with two of His disciples and then simply disappeared after He broke bread with them.  Twice He suddenly showed up in a locked room in the middle of His disciples.  He came and went, or more accurately appeared and disappeared, at will.  That was how Jesus taught them and us that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was always with them.

Jesus also made promises to His Church that He would not be able to keep if it weren’t for the communication of attributes.  Today we heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, but elsewhere Jesus made the promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Then there’s the promise that Jesus makes in the sacrament itself when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.”  How can Jesus make all of these promises to be with us if He is sitting on His throne in heaven?

If Jesus were just a man, these verses would make no sense.  But because Jesus is both God and man, He can fulfill these passages simply by being who He is.  The very body that carries the prints of the thorns, the marks of the nails, and the puncture wound of the spear is with us even though we can’t see Him.  In a way that we cannot understand, all of God’s forgiveness, all His love, all His comfort is always with each and every one of us in the crucified, risen, and ascended body of Jesus Christ.

I feel bad for those who reject the teaching of the exalted Christ’s communion of attributes between His divine and human natures. That one wrong turn, if you will, means they believe the bread and wine of the sacrament only represent the body and blood of Christ; that there is no forgiveness, only a symbol of forgiveness in His words.  It means they believe there’s no love from Christ in the sacrament, only a representation of His love.  It means they believe there’s no comfort in the cup, only a symbol of the comfort of Christ.  The truth is, when this teaching of Holy Scriptures is rejected, there is no real Gospel, there’s only a symbol of the Gospel.

But Christ has ascended to fill all things.  He is still, and will always be, Immanuel, God with us.  He’s with us through His love, His forgiveness, His comfort, His salvation, and the eternal life He offers to all.  The good news is that the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is.  As we read, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  And as the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Until that day, we rest in the assurance that we are never alone.  Christ our Lord, true God and true man, is always with us.  The world will do all it can to separate us from Him.  It will discourage us.  It will attack us.  It will persecute us.  Jesus Himself warned us, “In the world you will have trouble.”  But then He adds, “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  And He did that for you.

In His Name, Amen